Part V: Frustration
This should come as no surprise—chronic illness is frustrating. Tear out your hair, shake your fist at the sky, stomp your feet frustrating. Frustration might not be one of the seven deadly sins, but it’s so unhelpful in a healthy, functioning relationship. So this part in the series takes a detour into the mundane and practical ways I view frustration rather than the spiritual arguments against it. Because so far I haven’t found the verse that says Thou shalt not be so fed up with raging bacterial infections in thy husband’s body that thou dost lose focus on thy glorious salvation and Things that Really Matter. I’m sure it’s there, I just haven’t found it yet.
Boundaries. I am so bad at drawing boundaries. If I have a hard day at work, I think about it all night at home. An acquaintance makes a passing judgment, and I obsess about it for days. If I get over-excited in front of my friends, I’m convinced I’m hopelessly obnoxious and should be shunned. The only thing I can contain in its proper place is my flour collection. But Brad’s illness is teaching me to draw a big, fat line line around my frustration. Because even though Brad is my earthly dearest and the most kind, sincere, fun, exciting, God-trusting, selfless Hottie McHottie (what? I like him.) I’ve ever encountered, it’s easy for me to get frustrated with him. Or rather, for me to direct my frustration at his illness toward him. And that’s not fun for either of us.
I’ve learned to quickly examine my frustration and remind myself who or what I’m actually fed up with. It’s hardly ever Brad. It’s almost always those tenacious Lyme bacteria. And since it’s not Brad, I have no excuse to let my frustration affect how I treat him. In fact, by the time I finish this internal discussion, I usually look around and realize Brad has done the dishes for me again and I’m overwhelmed with feelings of relief.
What’s the point? Part of what makes chronic illness so frustrating (especially undiagnosed illnesses) is that it’s so hard to see an end to it. From a human perspective, pain seems meaningless. So when obstacle after obstacle comes up, I try to remember God has a purpose and a plan for this situation. And I’ve said this before, but I don’t have to know the plan to know there is a plan.
Getting mad. Brad’s family has this game called “Make Brad Mad.” No one’s ever won it because the man does not get mad. I’m serious. I’ve only ever seen him mad once when I was telling him the story of how I was deathly ill with something and in line at the pharmacy to get whatever drug it was that would make me feel better and some lady cut in front of me in line. Then he said the worst thing I’ve ever heard him say about anyone: “That lady should have been slapped.” Can you believe he said that? I can’t.
Anyway, Brad has way too much perspective, maturity, and general easygoing-ness to let simple frustration turn into anger. Not like me. I have to be really careful my frustration doesn’t turn into anger. Short-term anger is normal and I don’t beat myself up over it. But here’s my advice—don’t let an illness (or any circumstance) turn you into an angry person. Instead, let God use the illness to transform you. And since that’s sort of esoteric, what I mean is this: Let God’s grace transform your attitude right now, in whatever moment you’re in. For me, that usually means while I’m dragging myself into the shower in the morning, I have to pray that the fact that we’re still battling this won’t affect my attitude as I get ready for the day and that my frustration with Brad having trouble getting out of bed won’t make me sullen toward him while we’re eating breakfast. It’s really that mundane—and He’s really loving enough to do something about it.
All this frustrated waiting is where growth happens, though. What you do with this time is important.